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    Jun 7, House Training a Small Dog: How To – The Ultimate Guide

    By Janice Jones    |Last Updated 06/07/2022

    Have you heard people say, “House training a small dog is impossible—better to get a big dog, they’re much easier!” 

    There is some element of truth to that statement in that some small dogs are harder to train than larger dogs. 

    It doesn’t have to be an impossible chore.  The time you spend in housebreaking and training a small dog, whether she is a puppy or adult will be the best investment you can make.

    House breaking a small dog

    Unless you plan to confine your little
    dog to a small portion of your home forever, she will need to learn where and
    when to eliminate.  Confining your dog is your decision, but if you want a
    pet that you can keep in a small area, a guinea pig or hamster, not a dog might

    Your well-trained puppy becomes a
    treasured member of your family and true companion. 

    When you feel
    confident that your dog is not likely to mess in the house, you will feel freer
    traveling and visiting friends with your loyal canine companion feel self-assured that you will be welcomed
    time and again.

    Did you know that one of the reasons people relinquish their
    dogs to rescues or shelters involves housebreaking problems, although most will
    not admit this? 

    The last thing on your
    mind for your beloved and cherished pet is a rescue, so read on and sees how
    this whole training thing works.

    House Training Puppies Vs. Adult Small Dogs

    Basically training an adult and a puppy is similar with a
    few main distinctions. 

    Puppies have small bladders, and when they have to go, THEY
    HAVE TO GO.   Adults are able to
    hold it longer.

    Puppies who come from breeders who have already started
    housebreaking are easier to train than those from other sources.

    Puppies from pet stores are probably the hardest group of
    dogs to housebreak.  Living their entire
    young life in a cage has prevented them from using their natural desires to
    keep their den clean.  They give up.

    Adult dogs can be trained, but it might take longer than

    Patience and consistency are key elements of any good
    training program.

    When To Start House Training

    A puppy should be started on house training the minute you
    bring him home.  Ideally you will already have set supplies and equipment
    in place and ready to use.  A little more
    about the must-haves for potty-training your dog are listed below. 

    You will have already read this article or other related
    articles and have a general idea what you will need to do. 

    Decisions, Decisions!
    Make those choices before the House Training Begins

    Where’s the Doggie Bathroom?

    You will have decided where you want the dog to do his
    business (inside on pads, paper, or something similar) or outdoors. 

    If you choose outdoors, which most people do,
    then you will need to decide if the dog will have free access to your entire
    yard or whether you prefer that a certain section be designated as the canine “bathroom.” 

    Initially, potty training goes much faster if
    you take the puppy to the same spot in the yard each time.  The scents in that area will remind him what
    he is supposed to be doing.

    You’re Asking Me to Do What?

    Dog trainers use words, hand
    signals and treats to mold behavior. 
    House training can use these methods with great results. There are
    standard words that many people use when teaching a behavior such as “sit,
    down, stay and wait.” 

    I think with house training; you
    will need to come up with the terms you feel most comfortable using.  They can be anything that you can say in
    public and feel reasonably comfortable knowing that they may be words you will
    use for the entire lifetime of the puppy. 
    Decide on these words before you start to train. 

    I use words such as go pee-pee
    and poop-poop, but you have to understand that those are words I’ve used with
    my own children and those I’ve taught over my 30 plus years as a childhood
    educator.  You might say, “do your business, or go potty, or hurry up,” whatever works for you.

    Doggie Behavior 101: 

    I’m telling you I gotta go

    If you have never had a dog before or if it has been some time,
    you will want to brush up on puppy body language. Luckily for us, puppies and
    older dogs are fairly consistent from breed to breed on how they show the world
    that it is time to potty. 

    Dogs do what I call the potty dance.  They will sniff the ground, first moving in
    larger circles then smaller circles until they find the perfect place, squat
    and do their business.  Both boy and girl
    puppies squat to urinate.  Most male
    puppies do not begin lifting their leg until they are about 6 months or older.

    But, for house training to be a success, you need to know
    how to read those important signs.  The
    best way to do this is to spend time observing the puppy.  In other words, don’t let him out of your

    Not all puppies will consistently
    do the potty dance, so you will need to know the signals your puppy uses right
    before he squats.  Now you’re probably
    saying to yourself at this point,  

    Housebreaking a small dog; crate training

     “This doesn’t sound
    very hard; after all, what could be more fun than to watch a new puppy!” 

    It is fun, but we can’t do this 24/7 and that is where the
    crate comes into play.  A crate is cage
    or carrier that is big enough for a puppy or adult to go in willingly, stand
    up, turn around and stretch out fully. 
    It is not so big that it doubles as a bedroom and bathroom. 

    One big mistake that many small dog owners
    make is to buy a crate that is too large whereby allowing the puppy to enjoy an
    afternoon snooze and then get up and move to the other side of the crate where
    he does his pottying.  If you are
    planning to use a crate, read our article on crate training small dogs.

    Does he understand what to do?  Will he obligingly eliminate
    where you tell him?  The answer is simple:  Perhaps, but probably not
    every time!  At first we are capitalizing on the puppy’s innate need to
    keep his den (crate) clean. 

    Puppies also learn a
    great deal from other canines at this age. First, they learn from their mom and litter-mates. When they go to their new homes, they observe the habits of the resident dog or dogs if there are any. If the puppy has had a good early upbringing,
    he will follow his mother and copy what she does. 

    So, you decided where the puppy will urinate and defecate,
    chose the command words that you will use, purchased all the must-haves and set
    up a crate and a small room or x-pen. 
    Now what?

    Must He Stay in the Crate All of the Time?

    I’m sure you didn’t get a puppy so you could keep him in a cage and if you did, that would be cruel.  The crate is used for his bed and safe place, but keeping the puppy in there too long will be counterproductive.

    The crate is useful when you can’t give your puppy your full attention.  

    Alternatives to the Crate or Pen

    One possible solution to keeping the puppy in the crate is to keep him on a leash.  One end of the leash is attached to his collar or harness and the other end of the leash is attached to you.  The easiest way to accomplish this is to purchase a clip that will attach the leash to your belt or belt loop.

    Potty Schedules

    Scheduling and consistency is
    very important in potty or house training your new pup.  Young puppies will
    naturally need to eliminate after certain events:

    • After he eats or drinks
    • After he plays
    • After he sleeps
    • At other times, at least every 1 ½ to 2 hours

    The most successful house training
    methods urge you to arrange your schedule so that you will have time for
    house-training your pup right from the start. 
    If you know you will be getting a new dog, see if you will be able to
    arrange a few days off from work or at least a weekend of nonstop

    This doesn’t mean a week of vacationing, TV binge watching, or trying out that new video game.  It does mean watching your puppy.

    Feeding Schedules

    Regular feeding schedules help speed up the
    process of house training.  Young puppies need to eat about 3 times a day
    and feeding at regular times will keep the puppy on a potty schedule. 

    Water should be available throughout the day. They don’t need to have free access to water all night long and I would recommend you take the water up an hour or more before you go to bed.

    If you simply can’t feed the midday meal, leave some dry kibble available.  Very small puppies are prone to hypoglycemia
    if they go too long with food.

    Night Time Rituals

    Expect the first few nights to be sleepless ones.  Nighttime can be problematic because many
    small puppies cannot sleep through the night without the need to go. This means
    getting up in the middle of the night to take your puppy out. 

    Remember you’re a mama or papa now.  Some equate the acquisition of a new puppy to
    that of a newborn, and there is much truth to this.   Expect this to happen and then be pleasantly
    surprised if the puppy sleeps straight through the night.  It does happen.


    Take the puppy to where you have designated and wait.  I have found that walking slowly around in
    small circles gives some puppies a clue, but not all.  If the puppy starts to play and has no
    indication of doing anything, pick him up and bring him indoors.  Place him back in the crate or x-pen.  No negativity at this point.

    If the puppy goes, act very enthusiastically, tell him what
    a good boy he is, and give a treat.
      You will want to mark the occasion by your cue word such as go potty.  As soon as you see him urinating or defecating, say, yes, go potty. If you like clicker training, you can mark the behavior with a click. 

    When the puppy is finished praise and give a treat.  You can treat while he’s urinating, but I’ve found that many puppies get so distracted that they forget what they are doing. 

    puppies love the great outdoors and will want to stay out to play.  If he does do what he is supposed to do, give
    him a few minutes of play before bringing him indoors. 

    After a few days of very consistent scheduling, training and
    treats, your puppy should be on his way towards understanding what is expected
    of him as far as house training is concerned.

    Mistakes?  Never!

    Well maybe in a perfect world, but the real world, (stuff) happens and puppies are going to make mistakes.  If your puppy starts to urinate in the house and you can
    catch him in the act, pick him up and take him to the proper location.  Then use your words and praise after the

    If you find that the puppy has made a mistake in the house, clean
    it up by removing any matter, blotting up urine with a paper towel and then
    using an enzyme cleaner to remove odors and stains. 

    No need to punish the puppy.  It would be ineffective at best and detrimental
    to the puppy’s development and your relationship at worse. 

    Keep it positive and you’ll find the puppy bonds quickly to
    you, learns what to do and everyone has fun. 
    Happy House training!

    As Dr. Sophia Yin, so aptly puts it in her book, How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves, “housetraining your pup may seem like a lot of trouble, but compared to diapers for three years and changing bed sheets for more, this is a virtual cakewalk.”

    Pin for Future Reference

    Housebreaking a small puppy

    Key Points for Successful House Training

    1. Plan Ahead

    Plan ahead for where you want your puppy to eliminate and decide on the words you will use to make the behavior.  If your family will be helping with the training, assure everyone uses the same language.

    2. Crate or Pen

    Decide on a crate or a small pen where the puppy will stay when you can’t give him undivided attention.  The crate must be big enough for the puppy to stand up, turn around, stretch out and lie down, but not big enough for him to use his crate as a bathroom.

    3. Schedule

    Map out your schedule and stick with it.  Remember that your puppy will need to go out after awakening, after eating, after playing, and before sleeping.

    4. Praise, Reward, Repeat

    House training is all about positive behavior.  The puppy does what you want him to do.  You act happy and give him a treat.  He’s happy and likely to repeat the behavior.  Give him some play time or put him back in the crate or pen.  

    5. Clean Up

    You never want to punish accidents.  Just wipe up and then clean the area with an enzyme cleaner.

    6.  Expand His Territory

    As your puppy gets the hang of going outside on a consistent basis, give him a little more freedom in your home.  Pet parents often make use of infant gates to block off areas where they don’t want puppy to go.  

    It’s likely that your puppy has figured out he’s supposed to go outside to eliminate, but may not have made the connection that he shouldn’t go inside.  Expand his surroundings room by room until he is consistent with his potty training.  

    It may be 6 months or more before you will comfortable giving him the full reign of the house.  It will be worth it in the end.  A well trained puppy will be a joy to take out on errands and to visit friend’s homes.

    House Training References and Recommended Resources

    Way to Go! How to Housetrain a Dog of Any Age by by Karen B. London Ph.D. and  Patricia B. McConnell Ph.D. 

    The Art of Raising a Puppy by by Monks of New Skete 

    How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves, by Sophia Yin, DVM

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